Monmouth farm raises rare breeds of animals

By jane meggitt
Staff Writer

By jane meggitt
Staff Writer

VERONICA YANKOWSKI  Allentown resident Jamie Cvecich feeds one of her Babydoll sheep, one of the rare breeds of animals she raises.VERONICA YANKOWSKI Allentown resident Jamie Cvecich feeds one of her Babydoll sheep, one of the rare breeds of animals she raises.

ALLENTOWN — According to Allen-town resident Jamie Cvecich, the Babydoll sheep she raises can smile.

Cvecich, a kindergarten teacher at the Roosevelt Public School, keeps the Baby-dolls, a rare breed of sheep, as well as several other rare types of animals, on her farm.

"They’re easy to get friendly and tame. They’re not skittish, like some other sheep. They’re sweet and lovable," said Cvecich, who has been raising sheep since she was a child.

The Babydoll breed of sheep was popular in the early 1900s, when many English farms kept Southdown sheep for their meat and wool, said Cvecich. These hardy, friendly sheep, originating in the South Down hills of Sussex, England, were often kept on small family farms, but the onset of refrigeration meant that larger breeds were in demand. By the end of the second World War, the Southdown sheep was nearly extinct in its native land.

Allentown farmer Jamie Cvecich believes that Wendy, one of her rare Babydoll sheep, can smile.Allentown farmer Jamie Cvecich believes that Wendy, one of her rare Babydoll sheep, can smile.

In 1986, Washington state resident Robert Mock started to look for the remnants of this small sheep breed. It took him until 1990 to find two small flocks. Mock named the sheep Olde English Babydoll Southdowns, and helped establish a registry and conformation standard for the breed.

Although historically bred for meat, Cvecich said she can’t imagine eating the Babydolls. Since they sell for between $500 and $1,000, they would be a very expensive meal, she added.

She has her sheep sheared each spring by a professional shearer, and has their wool sent to a mill to be washed and carded. She then spins the wool into yarn, dyes it and uses it for knitting.

"It blends well with angora and other fibers," she said, noting that each sheep produces between 5 and 6 pounds of wool.

Babydolls cannot be taller than 24 inches and weigh between 60 and 70 pounds, she said. Cvecich joked that besides making great pets the sheep are also good lawnmowers.

She keeps white Babydoll sheep and the more rare black Babydoll.

"In England, the mills wanted all-white wool," she said. "They tried to breed the black wool out. Factories wanted white wool to dye."

Cvecich believes it is important to retain the genetic information found in the older breeds of sheep, as opposed to those bred for modern agriculture.

"[Modern] farm breeds have short life spans," she said. "Everything’s weaker, including immunity and the ability to reproduce."

Cvecich emphasized that her sheep are not miniature animals, but actual small sheep. Babydolls are known for their easy birthing and are naturally polled, meaning they are born without horns.

Her conservation efforts are not limited to sheep. Cvecich has various varieties of poultry, including white Jersey Giant chickens, which are listed by the American Livestock Breed Conservancy (ALBC) as a critical breed, meaning there are fewer than 500 breeding animals in North America.

The Jersey Giant was developed in New Jersey during the 1870s and remains the largest chicken developed in this country. Because the chickens have little meat on their frames until the age of 6 months, they are not desirable in the modern poultry industry, which demands a rapidly growing bird.

She also has Silver-Laced Wyandottes, beautifully marked chickens, which are also on the ALBC’s critical list.

Her ducks include the call duck, which she describes as a "live decoy." In Eng-land, hunters would tie a string to the call duck’s leg and release it in a lake. It would call to other ducks and could be reeled in by the hunter. Cvecich has brought chickens and ducks in to show her students, and may bring in a sheep this year, she said.

Miniature donkeys, considered a "recovering" breed by the ALBC, are another of Cvecich’s favorites. She has several of these friendly, gentle animals who, according to the breed standard, cannot be taller than 36 inches.

She said miniatures are good with children, who can ride them, and both children and adults can harness them up and drive them.